How Youth Leadership Changes the World

How Youth Leadership Changes the World

By Anna Gabriella Casalme, Alliance Board Member and former Youth Advisory Council Member

A little over three months ago, the 2018 National School-Based Health Care Convention challenged us to think about how we can promote youth leadership in our work. In the closing plenary, moderated by Nicole Carrillo (Member, School-Based Health Alliance Youth Advisory Council), we heard from young leaders: Mendell Grinter (Founder, Campaign for School Equity), Nicole Cardoza (Founder, Yoga Foster), Anna Gabriella Casalme (that’s me!), and Malaysia Jones (Terrell County Student Ambassador). In case you missed it or want a refresher, here are some of the highlights:

Defining Youth Leadership

“Leadership is about creating as many other leaders as possible. I think when you have a collective leadership in a school or community, it’s so much more powerful than one person holding all of the burden and all of the weight of creating change.” – Nicole

“When we think of leadership, we don’t think of adults going to adult leadership programs. We assume that adults are leaders and I think that the existence of the term ‘youth leadership’ is in part because we are surprised by it and I think we need to challenge our assumptions about young people and our expectations of young people.” – Anna

“When we think about youth leadership, it really is what you said at the start: participation. How are we encouraging youth to be engaged and to add voice to the landscape?” – Mendell

“Try to strive to make a better community and try to make students know that they have a voice and that they are very important in our community.” – Malaysia

Listening to Young People

“We ask students: what are key issues that you see that you want to change, that you want to fix? And we just listen. No talking, you just listen. Two, you have to have some sort of patience. I think a lot of times in a lot of our work, we have language that we use. We have buzzwords and keywords and students aren’t able to articulate the same way.” – Mendell

“I think for every student leader that we see on TV, there are thousands of them that have been told that their ideas and perspectives are not important, so the more that we can start amplifying their voices, the better…” – Nicole

“One caveat to that is listening equitably and being mindful of how we might listen to different groups of students very differently from others and how certain groups of students might be communicating their needs differently than others and we need to adjust accordingly.” – Anna

“You can’t really just say, ‘Oh let’s do this.’ You have to know what you’re doing, how you’re going to do it and who you’re going to affect in your community. It doesn’t have to be your community. It could be your state and nationwide. Basically just making it everyone, not just yourself.” – Malaysia

Engaging Youth and Sustaining Movements

“Basically, ask for what we want, build a relationship (with city leaders), and be able to speak up for it. Be able to show them that you have a reason for doing what you’re doing.” – Malaysia

“By listening very intently to these very personal stories that are already existing and already out there and giving them a larger platform… that is how I think we can continue to sustain these movements and through that sustenance, we can see some real policy reform and culture shift.” – Anna

“It’s like getting out of the way as quickly as possible. I’m always inspired. Every single time I work with a student, they tend to know so much more than I do… The more that we can empower them to raise their voice and talk from their perspective, the better and the more effective any programming can be.” – Nicole

What do we do now?

“Elect leaders. Elect them because of what they are trying to do for the community. The smallest things can make a big impact on your community. Elect leaders – that’s the top priority. Also, let teens be teens, but also teach them to be leaders.” – Malaysia

“Broadening your definition of what you can do to help students heal by asking them what they’re doing… Being together in community is healing. Playing basketball after school is healing. Having a space where people can just talk and be themselves can be a really powerful form of healing.” – Nicole

“We owe it to all of our youth, our children, to be outspoken advocates for them… I think our children need to see adults as strong advocates for them in their lives and their communities.” – Mendell

“First of all, give yourselves a pat on the back for caring as much as you do… My second action… keeping young people, if they’re not in the room, get them in the room, but if they’re not, pretending that they are, imagining what they would say and keeping them at the forefront of your mind no matter what you’re doing.” – Anna

I am immensely grateful to the many individuals who supported me throughout my youth and afforded me opportunities to grow as a leader. Besides serving on the Board of Directors of the School-Based Health Alliance, I am also the founder of Novelly, which is sparking the next generation of changemakers – one YA novel at a time. If you’re interested in bringing a youth-driven leadership program to your school-based health center, please encourage your students to start a Novelly chapter and get in touch with us!

With much gratitude for all that you do,
Anna Gabriella Casalme


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